CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s new moon rocket caused another dangerous fuel leak on Saturday, forcing launch controllers to call off their second attempt to send a crew capsule into lunar orbit with flight dummies. test.
The first attempt earlier in the week was also blighted by a hydrogen leak, but those leaks were elsewhere on the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket, the most powerful NASA has ever built.
Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and his team attempted to plug Saturday’s leak like they did last time: stopping and restarting the flow of super-cold liquid hydrogen in hopes of suppressing the space around a seal in the supply line. They tried that twice, actually, and also injected helium into the line. But the leak persisted.
Blackwell-Thompson finally stopped the countdown after three to four hours of futile effort.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s new moon rocket caused another dangerous leak on Saturday as the launch team began refueling it for liftoff on a test flight set to take place. long before the astronauts boarded.
For the second time this week, the launch team began loading nearly a million gallons of fuel into the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket, the most powerful NASA has ever built. Monday’s attempt was halted by a bad engine sensor and a fuel leak.
At sunrise, an overpressure alarm sounded and the refueling operation was briefly halted, but no damage occurred and the effort resumed. But a few minutes later, hydrogen fuel began leaking from the engine section at the bottom of the rocket. NASA halted the operation, while engineers worked to plug what was believed to be a gap around a joint in the supply line.
The countdown clocks kept ticking toward an afternoon takeoff; NASA had two hours on Saturday to get the rocket off the ground.
NASA wants to send the crew capsule atop the rocket around the moon, pushing it to the limit before astronauts board the next flight. If the five-week demonstration with test dummies is successful, astronauts could fly around the moon in 2024 and land there in 2025. People last walked on the moon 50 years ago.
Forecasters were expecting generally favorable weather at Kennedy Space Center, especially near the end of the two-hour afternoon launch window.
On Monday, hydrogen escaped elsewhere in the rocket. Technicians have been tightening the fittings over the past week, but launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson stressed she won’t know if everything was tight until Saturday’s refueling.
Even more problematic on Monday, a sensor indicated that one of the rocket’s four engines was too hot, but engineers later verified that it was actually quite cold. The launch team planned to ignore the faulty sensor this time around and rely on other instruments to ensure that each prime mover was properly cooled.
Before igniting, the main engines must be as cold as the liquid hydrogen flowing through them at minus-420 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-250 degrees Celsius). If not, the resulting damage could lead to sudden engine shutdown and aborted flight.
Mission leaders accepted the additional risk posed by the engine problem as well as a separate problem: cracks in the rocket’s insulating foam. But they acknowledged that other issues – like fuel leaks – could lead to another delay.
That didn’t stop thousands of people scrambling up the coast to see the Space Launch System rocket lift off. Local authorities were expecting massive crowds due to the long Labor Day holiday weekend.
The $4.1 billion test flight is the first step in NASA’s Artemis program of renewed lunar exploration, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology.
Twelve astronauts walked on the moon during NASA’s Apollo program, the last time in 1972.
Artemis – years behind schedule and billions over budget – aims to establish an enduring human presence on the moon, with crews possibly spending weeks at a time. It is considered a training ground for Mars.
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Marcia Dunn, Associated Press